Poetry Practical Notes Quotations

The Unlearned and Unstable

From John Dryden’s Religio Laici

[Of the negative results of Scripture being readily accessible]

‘Tis true, my Friend, (and far be Flattery hence)

This good had full as a bad a Consequence:

The Book thus put in every vulgar hand,

Which each presum’d he best cou’d understand,

the Common Rule was made the common Prey;

And at the mercy of the Rabble lay.

The tender Page with horney Fists was gaul’d;

And he was gifted most that that loudest baul’d:

The Spirit gave the Doctoral Degree:

And every member of a Company

Was of his Trade, and of the Bible free.

Plain Truths enough for needful use they found;

But men wou’d still be itching to expound:

Each was ambitious of th’ obscurest place,

No measure ta’en from Knowledg, all from grace.

Study and Pains were now no more their Care:

Texts were explain’d by Fasting, and by Prayer:

This was the Fruit the private Spirit brought;

Occasion’d by great Zeal, and little Thought.

While Crouds unlearn’d, with rude Devotion warm,

About the Sacred Viands buz and swarm,

The Fly-blown Text creates a crawling Brood;

And turns to Maggots what was meant for Food.

A Thousand daily Sects rise up, and dye;

A Thousand more the perish’d Race supply:

So all we make of Heaven’s discover’d Will

Is, not to have it, or to use it ill.

This is not, I think, a topic that one frequently hears addressed in Protestant circles: and certainly it should not be taken as an argument against the dissemination of Scripture. Yet nonetheless, it is as well to recognize the truth of Peter’s words, that Scripture is wrested to the destruction of the wresters. Abusus non tollit usus: this is not a call to ignorance, to neglect of our Lord’s commandment in John 5:39, or a failure to imitate the noble Bereans. It is a call to make a good use of Heaven’s discover’d Will.

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